I want to describe what it feels like to suffocate.
First, let me acknowledge the obvious. I am writing this piece, so I am clearly still alive. I’ve never been the victim of a near-suffocation, either. I can barely even stand to hold my breath for more than thirty seconds. So why am I writing this?
I’ll get to that in a moment. Bear with me, and imagine you are a young woman―let’s say 30 years old―with four children: Jacob, Caroline, Jackson, and the baby, Ellie. It’s a beautiful spring day, and you watch in amazement as out of the clear blue sky a rain of strange metallic objects begins to fall. They hit the ground and a smoke unlike anything you’ve ever seen fills the air. In your neighborhood, people are screaming, running past your house, urging you to flee. You try, but you cannot carry all four children, so you sink to the ground and do the only thing you can: you wrap your arms around them to try to shield them.
The first one to die is the baby. Ellie is too young to talk, but desperation is written on her little face as she tries to breathe. Each gasp sucks more poison into her lungs; she kicks frantically, her eyes begging you for help. Her skin turns blue and a green fluid begins to seep from her mouth, but still she is conscious, still she rails against dying. There is nothing you can do except hold her until she stops struggling.
In the horror of Ellie’s death, you’ve missed what’s happening to your other children. They are all three on the ground. Jackson is seizing—he must be unconscious—but the older two are awake and the agony on their faces is terrible beyond anything you can endure. Caroline’s skin is covered in bubbles—no, they are blisters—and a raspy croaking sound is coming from her mouth. She’s trying to scream. An unidentifiable scent is everywhere—it’s like apples, or garlic, or maybe rotten eggs. Your throat and eyes begin to burn. Jacob, your three year-old, is clutching his eyes. Caroline stops reaching for you and grabs her throat. There is no air left in her lungs, but her eyes are still open; she is still moving even though it looks like her face is going to explode. She and Jackson die at the same time.
Now it is just you and Jacob. Each breathe you take is like inhaling fire. The pain is so intense you lose sight of your remaining child, but in your last glimpse of him you realize he’s been blinded: he’s wailing, with his hands held straight out in front him, trying to feel you. Your last coherent thought is enough to kill you: you worry he will survive. And then the pressure in your chest becomes more than you can stand, and you die.
Change the names of the children to Ariya and Liyan and Adar and Rojan, and change the place to Halabja, Kurdistan, and this story is no longer so fictional. In March 1988, 5000 Kurdish civilians were massacred here—reportedly by a mixture of sarin and mustard gas and possibly cyanide—under the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
Why bring this up? Because a few days ago, I read news reports quoting Donald Trump on the subject of genocide.
“Then Saddam Hussein throws a little gas, everyone goes crazy, ‘Oh he’s using gas!’” Trump said at a rally last year in which he criticized the invasion of Iraq and praised Hussein―himself a terrorist―because he killed other terrorists. To be sure Trump actually said something so asinine, I watched footage of his rally (fast forward to 1 hour, 8 minutes to hear the exact quote.)
Let’s repeat Trump’s words, keeping in mind the context. Saddam Hussein “threw a little gas.”
Being even momentarily cavalier about using chemical weapons on innocent people is monstrous. It should disqualify you from being a human being, let alone being the most influential human being on the planet. But Trump seems to respect some of the world’s most reprehensible villains, going out of his way to compliment Moammar Gadhafi and Kim Jong Un even as he acknowledges they’re bad guys. It’s baffling to Republican commentators ― even Rush Limbaugh described Trump as “emotionally incontinent.”
Personally, I would prefer the leader of the free world to be continent. A bonus would be getting through a speech without a torrent of straight-up insanity. Do I think Donald Trump is in favor of gassing babies? No. (Except maybe terrorists’ babies—he’s already said he’d “take out” their families.) Do I think it matters what you say, especially if you’re aiming to be POTUS? Yes.
After Trump’s comments on “taking out” the families of terrorists, a predictable outcry arouse, in which it was pointed out that intentionally ordering the military to murder civilians is a war crime. Trump’s response: “They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me,” adding: “I’ve always been a leader… If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” Then, in practically the next breath, he insisted he never said he’d kill the families of terrorists.
My point is not that it’s wrong to kill people related to terrorists, or that the Middle East is any more or less stable with dictators in charge. My point is that Trump appears unable to appreciate the consequences of words. Having a president afflicted with mental diarrhea is not okay. If you vote for Trump, you are voting for someone who is incapable of controlling himself, assuming he’s not actually stone evil.
I’m not endorsing anyone in this election, and no one would care if I did. I am a regular person. I’m a doctor, and I’m a wife and mother. I swing both ways, politically-speaking, and I have friends all across the spectrum of beliefs. (And I hope these friends will visit me in the internment camps if Trump gets elected.)
But I don’t think I can stay silent when I think of a presidential candidate describing what Saddam Hussein did as “throwing a little gas.”